BELIZE CITY, Fri. Oct. 30, 2015–Today the latest in a series of protests by the workers of the First Caribbean International Bank was carried out on Albert Street from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and another was held during the employees’ lunch break from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Prior to this, the disgruntled employees had staged a protest on October 9. According to a press release dated October 29 that was issued by the Christian Workers Union, to which the workers belong, the reason for these protests remain the same – they are clamoring to ensure they receive “salary increases, severance pay and an exit package given the impending closure of the bank”.
The press release in referring to the progress or lack of the negotiations between the employees and the bank, stated, “The Bank’s approach towards the proposals of the workers has been to either make no genuine efforts to counter-offers and remains repetitive in their response, refusing to make any attempt to reach compromise.” Further the release stated that the Bank seems unwilling to address the requests of the workers. Also, the workers have reportedly not yet been informed of the Bank’s exit date, which adds to the uncertainty of their future.
Amandala readers will recall that on September 22, the Labour Commissioner intervened in the matter by meeting with the Christian Workers’ Union, which represents the bank’s employees, and FCIB’s management in order for them to iron out their differences and forge a way forward for the sake of the 60 employees. As a result of the meeting, dates were set for negotiations to take place on September 25 and October 5. However those negotiations did not get started until Tuesday, October 13, but all indicators suggest that these negotiations are not going well.
It was in August that the bank went public with its decision to sell its assets to Heritage Bank and exit Belize. And if that wasn’t a big enough blow for the workers to deal with, shortly after the Vesting Act to transfer the bank’s assets was passed in the House of Representatives for approval on Tuesday, September 15.
After the workers got information that the Vesting Act was going to be passed, they staged a sickout on Friday, September 11, to demonstrate their frustration. Perhaps to put the workers of FCIB at ease, Prime Minister Dean Barrow had said at a press conference prior to passing the Vesting Act that it would not in any way prejudice negotiations between FCIB and the staff.
It was in 2002 that FCIB bought out Barclays Bank and started operations in Belize. The CEO of First Caribbean’s Regional Operations, Mr. Rik Parkhill, did not provide extensive details on the reasons for the bank’s decision to leave Belize, but in speaking to the media, Parkhill said “These decisions are never easy; however, it was necessary to sharpen our focus on the growth opportunities we have in other markets where we operate….given the growth path we have identified we have made the difficult decision to sell our Belize operations.”
In addressing the bank’s approach, the CWU press release comments, “The employees, call on the Bank to start negotiate in good faith and to make reasonable offers instead of their insulting approach. Also the employees demand that the negotiations not be further stretched out and be brought to early conclusion since the uncertainty this situation creates is equally unfair to customers as well as workers and the Bank is using its superior position to their advantage.”